“I am THE BEST, THE VERY BEST individual when it comes to doing Judo for MMA.” -Rhadi Ferguson
On Thursday, April 1, in Charlotte, N.C., the UFC and Spike TV will hold tryouts for season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter. Among the dozens of fighters from around the world that will be attending, is well-known MMA strength and conditioning coach, BJJ black belt, and 2004 Olympian judoka Rhadi Ferguson.
Dr. Ferguson broke the news with us last month that he was entering the world of MMA as a fighter, but we had no idea until recently he wanted to try out for The Ultimate Fighter. Dr. Ferguson’s cousin, Kevin Ferguson (a.k.a. Kimbo Slice), was on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, and although he did not win, he did end up with a UFC contract. Now it’s the Doctor’s turn to see if he can make it.
ProMMAnow.com spoke with Dr. Ferguson this week to confirm the rumor he would indeed be trying out for TUF 12 and to find out why someone with his credentials and background would choose this path. After years of watching the Junie Brownings and War Machines, maybe the UFC and Spike TV will see the value in bringing on The Ultimate Fighter’s first Ph.D. Olympian.
So Dr. Ferguson how are you doing today?
I am doing excellent. Yourself, how are you?
I am fantastic, thanks for asking. Let’s get right to it. What are these rumors we’re hearing about you trying out for The Ultimate Fighter?
I am definitely trying out, it’s not a rumor, it’s the real deal. I’ve been having issues securing a fight deal. My agent and I have been having some hurdles because there’s not too many people who are 1-0 or 0-0 who want to fight me because of my background and then the individuals who are at the high end of the scale, they have more professional MMA fights than I have because I have zero at this particular time and I’m just a little bit outclassed. Case in point: I had opportunity to fight Josh Barnett. I got an offer from an organization in Japan to fight Josh Barnett with like 14 days notice and I couldn’t take that offer because I’m just outclassed in that particular arena right now. I don’t have enough of a striking background in Mixed Martial Arts to take such a fight. There are some people who are at the lower end of the scale, like I had some feelers from Strikeforce concerning fighting Herschel Walker and I would have definitely taken that fight but once that offer was proposed to Bob Cook and American Kickboxing Academy they declined that offer so I am in one of those middle of the road positions right now and I think that the best entry point for me is the one that Mr. White has set up in the Ultimate Fighter.
I’m not trying to come into the sport thinking that I know everything, I have been around and in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts for some time. I have trained some of the prominent fighters in the Mixed Martial Arts game today. I trained Brandon Vera, Bobby Lashley, Carl Peresian, Thiago Alvez, better known as Pitt Bull. I’ve had my hand in the, not only in the training and conditioning but in the technical and tactical work for some of these fighters. Right now I’m working with Micah Miller as he is getting ready for Omigawa for a fight that he has in Japan. We’re going over a lot of work in the ring for sweeps etc. so I’ve spent my time being around Mixed Martial Arts. I’ve cornered in Pride and UFC and have been a training partner for Jeff Monson. So even though my record is 0 and 0 my MMA background is pretty extensive due to the exposure I’ve had and it really puts me in a catch 22 situation. So I think that the best thing for me to do is to walk into the game humbly, to let individuals know that I’m not coming in with a big head or anything like that. I would like to make my way in the door through The Ultimate Fighter if I am so fortunate to make it.
So, tell all the readers here your background from wrestling to being an Olympian in Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black belt, and Abu Dhabi competitor. In the strength and conditioning community you are really known as one of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the world and from that also you have your undergraduate in and doctorate. Tell us about all of this.
I have an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, a Master’s in Arts of Teaching and Education with a concentration in Secondary Mathematics. I have my P.H.D. in Education with a concentration in Professional Studies. I was going to school while I was training for the Olympics, I made the Olympic team in 2004. I was an alternate in 2000. I am a four time national Judo Champion. I am a veteran of, as you said, Abu Dhabi. I trained under Lloyd Irvin for my white belt all the way to my brown belt and I was awarded a black belt from Ricardo Liborio in 2006 at American Top Team. I also was a three sport athlete in college. I wrestled, ran track, and played football. I went to school on a football scholarship so I’ve had my hand in the sporting arena a pretty great deal. I’m just looking forward to kinda putting the sprinkles on my athletic career with a nice MMA career.
I think ending in MMA is a good ending for me, for me to jump back into the coaching realm. I’ve been coaching for some time. Right now I am the head coach for the Bahamian Judo Federation. As a matter of fact, I am going to coach this weekend in the United States, we have an international tournament that we are attending, so I have to coach the kids this weekend. I’ve been coaching, but I would like to jump back in on the athletic side and end that up and go back to full time coaching. It’s very similar to what Randy Couture is doing right now. He’s competing and he’s coaching at the same time. That’s something I would really like to do. I’d really like to try my hand at Mixed Martial Arts.
Now what would your strategy and goals be going into The Ultimate Fighter show. I mean, you are very well known figure in MMA already and would it be strange for the world seeing what you do behind the scenes, because really people pay you a lot of money just to get your training kits?
I thought about that. I’m not trying to be insensitive to anybody when I say this but I’m really interested in fighting Mixed Martial Arts. A three fight deal contract of $100,000 is really not a lot of money to me. That’s just the bottom line. It’s really not a lot of money at all. I don’t have any problem saying that. I definitely paid my dues academically and socially to be able to sit here in this seat and say that. Would I have a problem showing some of the stuff that I do on a day to day basis? Maybe. Everything is based upon a sacrifice model in my opinion. If you don’t dig a hole and put any seeds in there, a tree is not going to grow and there’s not going to be any fruit. Before the fruit comes you have to throw the manure on it, you have to throw the water on it. You have to do a whole bunch of work and wait for a season for the fruit to come. It’s one of those situations where you can’t sit down and say I, I, I, me, me, me, and this is what I’ve got and this is what I have, because the bottom line is I haven’t paid my dues in the MMA arena in terms of being a pugilist. I have to humble myself and if that’s the way I have to do it, then that’s the way I have to do it. I don’t have any problem with that. Will I have some issues with some of the younger people in the house if I make the show? I’m sure that I will. I am a pretty mature guy, I am 34 years old, I have a wife, I have two kids. I’m not one to, I don’t mind playing around, but I’m not one to play around all day long. I’m an entrepreneur. People who trained with me, trained under me, and have been trained by me, they know I am a very serious person. Will that provide some conflict? I’m sure it will, if I am so fortunate to get into the house, but I think everything will play out well if I’m selected.
Now, speaking of that. Everyone who has trained with you talks about this crazy intensity that you bring in. Tell us about your mindset and the lease regarding training.
Well when I train, I train. When I train, I don’t talk. When I train, I train. When I train, I don’t have any time for any side conversations. I don’t have any time for you to interrupt me when I am training. I’m not taking any phone calls when I am training. When I am training, I am training. I take training very seriously, as I would if I was in church and someone was trying to interrupt me in church. It’s not that I look at training as being a religious pursuit, but I do look at training as being a personal pursuit which I think everyone should do. I think you need to spend some time with yourself, spend some time with personal improvement. I look at training as being a personal improvement exercise. Sometimes it’s on a physical level, sometimes it’s on a mental level. Sometimes it’s just on a cognitive level, how you think about training. Meaning if it’s raining outside and I have to go running, I don’t not run because it’s raining. I still go running because the exercise has now changed from a conditioning one to a mental one. That’s how I look at training. It’s really not a toughness thing, because I train smart, I don’t train the same way I did when I was younger. Do I break in training? Yeah I break just like everyone else does. Do I try to break in training? No I don’t try to break. I try to train as much as I can to try to push that breaking point back. Some people watch me train say I train like an animal. Some people watch me train and they said this guy goes easy all the time. It depends on what part of the training cycle and what training day you catch me on. But I do take my training very seriously and I don’t like answering a lot of questions when I’m training because I’m not coaching, I’m training.
Now I saw in a documentary with you, you were talking how a lot of strength and conditioning coaches out there are always talking about not over-training and doing what’s good for your body. Your argument was the stuff that MMA fighters and elite male athletes were doing is not good for the body. You have to take it to another level, so talk a little more about that because that’s some really good insight and I’ve actually taken it myself and used it with my fighters.
Here’s what you’ve got to understand. If I trained my parents a certain way, for them they’ll reach the point of diminishing returns and/or over-training earlier than an elite level trained athlete. If you have some eyes which are conditioned for a certain style of training you’ll look at the training of an elite level athlete as being too much. That’s because your background is not such that you know what type of training needs to be done for the environment of play which the athlete has to exist in. Therefore, some of the training elite athletes have to do look like over-training to other individuals, but that is the training that has to be done. If your eye is not trained and you don’t have the experience, because a lot of things at the high end aren’t written down, and if they are, they come from other sports and usually from other pieces of research from other sports which is usually in a different language. Some of the stuff is in Russian, or Italian, or Portuguese, some of the studies which have been done out of Brazil. You have to look at sports like Judo and wrestling and boxing to see exactly what type of training practices you need to implement, or methodologies you need to put into place to train elite level athletes. Some of it you just don’t know. There is some guess work in there. As a professional you are making a hypothesis, an educated guess. You’re not just guessing. Some people look at the work and they think it’s too much. Where the professional looks at the work and knows it’s exactly what’s needed for the environment of play. In terms of taking years off your life? Of course man, you take years off your life. Just like NFL players do, Mixed Martial Artists do. Doing MMA is like being in a car accident, there’s nothing easy about getting hit with four ounce gloves, at all.
When you competed in Judo, you were known for having some of the most explosive throws in the world. What kind of excitement can your style of Judo bring to MMA?
Excitement without a doubt, without a doubt. I am THE BEST, THE BEST individual when it comes to doing Judo for MMA. You just haven’t seen me in the ring, but I have taught individuals who do Judo and have to defend against it. When I was teaching Thiago Alves when he had to compete against Karo Parisian, he was like, “Man I have never seen this stuff before.” I was like, “Man you don’t have to worry about it bro because the stuff I’m going to teach you, you’re going to be able to defend everything he does.” Like right now when I’m training Micah Miller he’s getting ready for Omigawa out of Japan. He’s like, “Man I’ve never seen this stuff before, it’s so smooth.” I said, “Don’t worry bro, when you’re finished with me you’re not going to have to worry about anything.” The Judo that I do is the antithesis to wrestling. You can wrestle as much as you want to, as hard as you want to. Judo is different than wrestling, it’s almost the opposite as wrestling. Wrestling’s really hard and Judo’s kind of soft and smooth. I think what people are going to see, they’re going to see a smoother type of fighting against the cage, more explosive throws, things of that particular nature.
Have you ever had any conversations with Dana White or anyone from the UFC about fighting?
I remember one time when Jeff was getting ready to fight and Dana asked me when I was getting ready to get in the ring. He says, “Man, when are you going to get in the ring?” I was surprised that he knew me, or knew my name. Maybe he’s just one of those guys that kinda studies how to win friends and influence people and knows that the most beautiful sound to a person is their name, but he knew my name at the time. I don’t know if it’s because I have a credential, he probably saw my name come across the desk or whatever but that was a couple years ago. I would definitely be surprised if he walked up to me and knew who I was now. I mean we’ve taken a couple of pictures here and there, he says hello every time he meets me and stops and talks and doesn’t rush. The last time I was in Atlanta I had one of my friends with me and I ran into Dana, he was like, “Man he didn’t rush, he sat down and talked.” I said, “I didn’t expect him to take his time and talk, he’s definitely a busy dude.” I’m shocked that he knows who I am. I’m pretty shocked but I shouldn’t be because he’s a consummate professional and I’m sure he knows the Mixed Martial Arts arena backwards and forwards, upwards and downwards.
What are your feelings about possibly fighting for the UFC, not just fighting for the UFC, but fighting for the UFC as an Olympian?
The Olympic credential is something that I was able to achieve, I am an Olympian but it doesn’t make me who I am. When I fight, you know I fight more for myself, my family, for my self respect, my kids, my ability to be a provider to my wife. That’s more along the lines of what I fight for. The Olympian thing, it’s something I was blessed with and I appreciate it. I definitely worked hard to get it but it’s something I was blessed with. I really don’t go into The Ultimate Fighter as an Olympian per se, I just go in as Rhadi Ferguson, I just hope I’m selected.
You’ve helped train some of the most well known and respected fighters in the sport and they’ve actually come to you for your knowledge. What kind of impact working with these fighters is going to make with you as a fighter? Do you think it’s going to help you?
Without a doubt. Without a doubt. I see a lot of things because I sit and I look at the sport through coaching lenses not athletic lenses. I see a lot more than some of the athletes can see because sometimes as Kahlil Gibran said in “The Prophet:” “The mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.” Sometimes when you step back from things you can see things a little more clearly. So as I step into the game I still bring those snapshots and pictures of the microscopic view that I had when I was sitting in the coach’s chair. It’s just different. I have a different perspective on training. I think the thing that’s going to be very different for me is to listen to the advice of some of the coaches if it is not sound advice. Now if it’s sound I have no problem but if it’s not sound I would have a problem. I don’t like when people make nonsensical statements that are not backed up by research and they’re just, basically they’re B.S. I don’t get into that. I’m down with whatever the research says.
You’ve done studies, and I’ve read them. You know a few people that do training studies for Mixed Martial Arts but you’ve done studies that I’ve read on what styles work best for different weight classes.
And you probably have a greater knowledge of what actually works than…
I’ve got a greater knowledge for what works for heavies, light-heavies and lightweights more than anybody. A lot of people make huge mistakes when they train heavyweight fighters because they don’t really know exactly what they’re doing. Some of the camps out here are doing a really good job of training heavyweight fighters and light heavyweight fighters. Some of them are not. They make mistakes. You have to analyze the game, you can’t just walk in and play the game, you’ve got to analyze the game, because at the end it’s not really MMA as much at is just a match up of styles and the ability to implement tactics, that’s what it is. That’s all it is. You get a bad style for yourself, you lose. You get a good style for yourself, you win. You implement your tactics and strategies, you have a better chance of winning that if you don’t. That’s what it is. It’s not so much “person A is better than person B” when you get to the top end of the scale. It’s like saying Brock Lesnar is better than Frank Mir. Well Brock Lesnar doesn’t have the technical repertoire Frank Mir has. Not even close. However, Brock Lesnar’s strategy, or his ability to implement his strategy supersedes Frank Mere’s ability to implement his strategy just because of power and strength. Does that mean that Brock Lesnar’s not technical? Not at all, he’s technical at his techniques. He doesn’t have the depth and breadth that Frank Mir has, but you don’t understand in heavyweight you don’t need that type of depth and breadth.
You’re known also for being able to break down fight videos you’ve studied…
I can break down fights like a fraction.
Tell us a little bit about your approach to working on fight videos.
Is that one of those secrets you won’t let out?
Bro it’s… Man I’ll give you one secret that I told Ricardo Liborio the other day when we were watching a film for Thiago Alves, we were watching John Fitch. I said, “Man, the key here darling is attack rate.” He said, “Man, I’ve never heard that before. What do you mean it’s the attack rate?” I said, “It’s the attack rate, that’s what you need to watch, the attack rate.” Here’s one secret, one secret out of many. What you do is you take the match, right, and you slice it in time per minute. You look at the amount of attacks and feints that person has in minute one, minute two , minute three, minute four, minute five. Look at his body of work and you plot it on a graph. It will let you know a person’s rhythm in a fight.
That’s as much of that as I am giving away, because the rest of that costs a lot of money. That’s two hundred and fifty dollars an hour if anybody’s interested. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be more than happy to sit down and look at a film with you, go over anything you want on the cage, on the ropes, on the ground, etc.
Gotcha. Well is there anything else that basically you want to say or ideas that you have or trying out for TUFs or anyone you’d like to thank?
Man I’d really like to thank my wife, Traci Ferguson, she allows me to do this. We just had a baby recently. As a matter of fact, I was training at Nashville MMA and I had to leave because my wife was in labor, I was training with Dave Herman and my wife was in labor and I had to hurry up and catch a flight and go back home and by the time I got there she had already had the baby. I was kind of sad that I wasn’t there, but I was happy that I got over it as soon as I saw my daughter. Her name is Rhadi, she’s named after me and I have a three and a half year old son named Rufus. I’m down here in Coconut Creek right now training and it’s rough not seeing my kids all the time but I’m preparing to enter into MMA, I’m doing the work, I’m lifting weights, I’m getting ready to go back to the gym in about 40 minutes to get back on the mat. I’ve got a two hour jiu- jitsu session, one hour in gi, one hour without the gi. It’s just rough man, I can’t tell you how much I miss my family, how much I miss my wife, I miss them a lot man. I miss them a whole lot, I don’t want to get sappy on here but I appreciate my wife. Even though I make the sacrifices training, getting up in the morning she makes a sacrifice too, because I tell you what, if my wife says, “It’s over, no more.” I shut it down right away, because she’s the boss.
That’s a quality I think a lot of people should have, that’s very impressive. One more thing. What can people expect from Rhadi Ferguson if he makes it to TUF and what can people expect from Rhadi Ferguson in the UFC as a fighter?
Honesty, brother, I’ll be honest with you all the time. I give my best. I give what I have and I leave it all in the cage. That’s it, that’s all you can do man I’m not 25 or 22-years-old anymore. I don’t walk around filled with piss and vinegar anymore, I fight smart. I train hard, I train smart. I do what’s necessary. I think that people need to see some good, smart, intelligent fighters and some good training. I think what we saw in The Ultimate Fighter with Roy Nelson, we saw somebody who was very savvy. I think Roy is a very savvy individual. He came to the show with good experience, with great qualities. He’s used to doing things himself. He had a very entrepreneur mindset. I think he kind of rubbed some of the people the wrong way because he may not have looked the part of what people thought the winner should look like or what a fighter should look like. The bottom line, he performed. You want to see someone who is going to perform, put their best foot forward and make the sport look good because at the end of the day we all want to make the sport look good. We don’t want to do anything crazy on The Ultimate Fighter.
I remember one time I was trying to, after a church service, I was trying to show some of the people in the house what I do for a living and the type of people I train. I turned on The Ultimate Fighter, it was one of those episodes where this guy went the bathroom and relieved himself in some manner I don’t want to discuss right now in somebody’s sushi and put it back in the refrigerator. Somebody ate it, and the people were like what in the hell are you showing us here. I was so embarrassed because I’m trying to show them what I do for a living and that’s what I had to show them. I’m sure that made great television, and I’m sure I’ll make good TV too, but you want to put your best foot forward for the sport. Case in point, I believe that Kevin Ferguson did a great job in terms of moving the sport forward. “Kimbo Slice”, if you will, Kimbo Slice on The Ultimate Fighter, I think he did a good job of moving the sport forward. I think that if you look at the sport now, there are people of a certain of different demographic who probably weren’t interested in the sport before, who are interested in it now because of Kimbo. I think, not even think, I know that he moves the sport forward. He absolutely did. That’s what you want, you want people to look at back at your body of work as an athlete or a coach and know that you contributed to the sport, that you contributed to the enhancement of individual lives, that the kids looked at you and said, “Hey man, I’d like to be like Rhadi Ferguson one day,” or “I would like my son or daughter to be like Rhadi or Rhadi-esque or a Rhadi-type individual.” That’s really what you are looking for and I think that’s what I’ll provide. You know what? The bottom line is this, Dana ain’t no dummy, Dana is a very smart individual. He and the Ferttita brothers have done an excellent job building up their brand. If they’re looking for someone that’s going to help them and continue to strengthen their brand and maintain their integrity of their brand, then Rhadi Ferguson is a great guy.
Gotcha. That’s good stuff, and for the people that didn’t know it Kimbo Slice is your cousin. Am I correct on that?
You are one hundred percent correct my brotha, one hundred percent correct. He’s at the gym right now as a matter of fact. His son is going to wrestling practice right now.
You are obviously proud of your cousin for what he has done.
Without a doubt. I’m super excited for the dude, I mean he trains hard man, he trains hard. He’s like a sponge in the gym. He does exactly what he’s told, he doesn’t deviate. It’s something to watch. I was about to close, I’ve got to get to practice
Thanks for your time we look forward to seeing what you have in the future.
Thank you very much.